Colorado is characterized by the most rugged and mountainous terrain of any state in the US, and those mountains were rich in minerals waiting to be discovered by prospectors as far back as 1859.
Development of mines in Colorado was slow at first due to the extremes of terrain and weather, and the remoteness of many of the state’s mountain ranges. However, by the 1880s most areas of the state had been opened, and mining on a large scale had begun.
Colorado’s spectacular scenery and the richness of the state’s mines attracted many of the top photographers working at the time. The result is that today more amazing photography of Colorado’s incredible mining industry is available than any other state.
These are some of Colorado’s most incredible mining scenes.
Battle Mountain Mines – Cripple Creek
Gold was not discovered at Cripple Creek until the 1890s, a late date for a major discovery in the West. The mines at Cripple Creek would go on to create the second most wealth of any gold district in the country, with only Deadwood, South Dakota producing more.
As the above photo illustrates, the gold mines at Cripple Creek were vast operations that produced incredible riches.
Mines at Carbonate Hill – Leadville
The silver bonanza at Leadville transformed Colorado into the nations top mining state in the early 1880s. The mines of Leadville were so rich that by 1880 they were producing five times the wealth as Central City, the states leading district until that time.
Carbonate Hill was one of Leadville’s bonanza ore producing areas. Many fortunes were taken from these rich mines.
Tomboy Mine at Savage Basin
The San Juan Mountain range of southwestern Colorado is the state’s most rugged and inaccessible region. Many of the deposits are at high altitude, in settings so difficult that individual mines became year-round camps where hundreds of miners lived.
Camps like Tomboy became towns of their own, complete with a school, store, stables, and even a tennis court and bowling alley.
Yule Marble Quarry at the town of Marble
Not all riches taken from Colorado mines were gold and silver. At the aptly named town of Marble, a world-class marble deposit was developed at the Yule Quarry.
Yule Marble has been used in many famous buildings and monuments in the United States and around the world, including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Hearst Castle, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and numerous capital buildings, banks, and hotels.
Coke Ovens at Crested Butte
Coal was another commodity that built prominent mining towns in the state of Colorado. Colorado coal mines were uniquely positioned to supply the fuel needed for the state’s enormous mining industry.
Although Crested Butte was initially founded as a gold and silver town, it was the coal mines that would be the town’s economic foundation for many decades.
Historic Mining Scene at Black Hawk
Black Hawk was the milling and smelting center of the Central City district. Gold was discovered in what was known as Gregory Gulch in 1859, Colorado’s most important mineral discovery at the time. The placer mines of Gregory Gulch would evolve into Colorado’s most important lode mining district during the 1860s and 1870s.
The incredible photo above is in some ways the quintessential Colorado mining scene. The cut into the hill on the right of the photo was one of the earliest lode mining operations in the gulch, dating back to the early 1860s. Nearly two decades later modern mines have replaced the work of individual prospectors, the railroad twists and turns on its way up steep terrain, and homes and businesses fill every bit of usable ground in this booming town.
Yankee Girl Mine at Red Mountain
New silver discoveries at Red Mountain during the early 1880s created one of Colorado’s most productive silver districts. The center of the district was at Red Mountain Town, and the Yankee Girl mine was one of the top producing mines.
This view of the Yankee Girl is typical of the mines in Colorado’s rugged and magnificent San Juan Mountains.
Independence Mines at the Cripple Creek District
The fabulous riches coming out of Cripple Creek mines spurred the development of many towns and camps. The town of Independence, at over 10,600 feet in elevation, was built among a group of rich mines at high altitude.
The scale of industry seen in this photo gives some sense of how rich the Cripple Creek mines were.